Thursday, May 29, 2014

wintering


as it happens
he is a wintering woods:
full of evasive echoes
composed in a hue of retreating vibrancy
ever-present in evergreen
but ever unremarkable.

his decay is his beauty
but mostly misunderstood -
few linger long enough
to learn the lost language,
which begs the question:
do his unheard songs have a sound?  

his leaves drift to the ground:
a delicate dying dance
of barely noticed endings
and already forgotten beginnings.
a created confusion.
a catalyst of somber chaos.

the golden leaves
are a gentle bleeding out
becoming the base line
for the sound of silence
that resounds within him,
that is the anthem of his heart.

age becomes him
but - he has always been old
with a treasuretrove
of stories forever untold
and roots overgrown
in soil of steadfast hopes.

a chilled wind threads itself
among his naked branches
bringing the smell of coming rain
the sweetest perfume
and a scent of impending gloom
grey encasing his depths.

the dampness resurrects
breaths of pine and cedar
in tune to the dirge of creakings
that speak of ages he never knew
but ages he dearly misses
ages he better belongs to.

the stayed raindrops
become as gem stones
a glossing on musty things
an accent to cobwebs
which makes melancholy
the undeniable hymn of his heart.

the sound of silence is the start
of petrification
of sap turning to amber
of leaves evolving to dust  
of winter’s stillness
of memories lost.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

goal

i'll be upfront - i really have no idea about where i am going in life. i know that is not an uncommon condition, regardless of age.  a sense of direction and identity is an ever-evolving thing, i know that too.  sometimes i find peace in that. but sometimes, even believing that as truth, is not comfort enough.

i want to know where i am going. i want to have a clear goal to chase.  but i also want to be chasing a goal that is aligned with God's will for my life.  the truth is - i don't know what goal i am chasing let alone the goal God wants me to chase.  so am i even moving at all? am i standing still?

a friend of mine gave me the book here and now: living in the spirit by henri nouwen, and it has been a gift that truly keeps on giving.  the chapters are short, take less than 3 minutes to read, and more often then not they have a little nugget of spiritual perspective that i chew on for the day.  recently i read one entitled "a clear goal," which, given what i described above, jumped out at me out.  i'll include a few bits of it that i related to most strongly:

do we have a clear goal in life?  the athletes whose clear goal is the attainment of the olympic gold are willing to let everything else become secondary.  the way they eat, sleep, study, and train are all determined by that one clear goal.

this is true of the spiritual life as it is in the life of competitive sports.  without a clear goal, we will always be distracted and spend our energy on secondary things.  "keep your eye on the prize," martin luther king said to his people.  what is our prize? it is the divine life, the eternal life, the life with and in God.

...it is not easy to keep our eyes fixed on the eternal life, especially not in a world that keeps telling us that there are more immediate and urgent things on which to focus...we know from experience that without a clear goal our lives become fragmented into many tasks and obligations that drain us and leave us with a feeling of exhaustion and uselessness.

i'll be upfront - i almost always feel distracted.  there are so many things i am wanting to do or write about or think about at any given moment that it leaves my mind a rather clutter place to dwell in.  so, no wonder i am confused about where i am going in life: i am confused where i am going in the next 30 seconds.

henri nouwen's use of the sports metaphor was illuminating to me.  i am a distance runner, although certainly no olympic athlete by any stretch of the imagination.  however, i can still relate to the training illustration.  when i've trained for a marathon, every week the training regiment requires you to do one long run, each week the mileage increases until the 26.2 race day.   on the day i schedule out for the long run, all other popped-up distractions become secondary to getting the run in.  if i am going to have any chance of completely the 26.2 mile goal on the race day, i have to make time for the training runs and make all other things secondary. 

after reading this i wanted to know a bit more about what the Bible says about distractions and maintaining a "keep-your-eyes-on-things-above" perspective.  so, here are a few i came across (thanks to google):

so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal 
-2 corinthians 4:18

set your mind on things above, not on earthly things
-colossians 3:2

 the precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart, the commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes
-psalm 19:8

so, the Word reminds us to take time to meditate on scripture and to find means to find enough stillness to re-align our perspective to an upward gaze.  those "means" will look different for everyone, for me it is taking time to be in the outdoors, for others it might be volunteering or playing music, etc.

henri nouwen also had some advice on how to battle the distraction cycle:

how then do we keep our goal clear...by the discipline of prayer: the discipline that helps us to bring God back again and again to the center of our life.  we will always remain distracted, constantly busy with many urgent demands, but when there is a time and place set apart to return to our God...we gradually can come to realize the many things we have to do, to say, or to think no longer distract us but are, instead, all leading us closer to our goal (of "a life with and in God")

my initial response to the above is 'easier said than done', but it is not intended as an instant solution. rather i see it as an encouragement to make prayer a discipline, because it will help us maintain a clear goal, and a sense of direction.  but, more importantly in my opinion, prayer reminds us that our goal is always to have a life with and in God, and that will mean different things in different seasons of our life.  but the umbrella of being present with and serving God is the everlasting goal of our life.

i also think that the notion of making things a discipline can be extended further (at least for me personally) into my use of time.  i have a lot of things i tell myself i want to do "someday"... several 'goals' i have for myself, but i often tell myself i 'don't have time' which basically means 'i don't make time' for them.  so, i think the discipline of carving out a little time each day/week/month to do even one goal on the 'list' will not only help us feel less distracted, but will also help direct us on the path God calls us to. passions are given to us for a reason, and taking time to peruse them will lead us to meeting other people who share them, and into other ways we can find joyful ways to serve God.

i'll be upfront - reminding myself that my umbrella goal is to peruse a life with and in service to God, helps me feel less distracted.  it reminds me to ask myself, "what am i going to do today that serves God" and "how will i spend time (even if just a few minutes) with God today?  that gives me some semblance of clear direction in the moment-to-moment, and that is something more than the nothing i started with.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

monopoly

in a sermon i heard this last sunday, the pastor included an excerpt from john ortberg’s book when the game is over, it all goes back in the box -

there is an analogy that comes from the world of games. it was used quite some time ago by a psychologist named james dobson. i first learned it from my grandmother. my grandmother taught me how to play the game monopoly. now, my grandmother was a wonderful person…but she was the most ruthless monopoly player i have ever known in my life. imagine what would have happened if donald trump had married leona helmsley and they would have had a child. then, you have some picture of what my grandmother was like when she played monopoly. she understood that the name of the game is to acquire.


when we would play when i was a little kid and i got my money from the bank, i would always want to save it, hang on to it, because it was just so much fun to have money. she spent on everything she landed on. and then, when she bought it, she would mortgage it as much as she could and buy everything else she landed on. she would accumulate everything she could. and eventually, she became the master of the board.


and every time i landed, i would have to pay her money. and eventually, every time she would take my last dollar, i would quit in utter defeat. and then she would always say the same thing to me. she’d look at me and she’d say, “one day, you’ll learn to play the game.” i hated it when she said that to me. but one summer, i played monopoly with a neighbor kid–a friend of mine–almost every day, all day long. we’d play monopoly for hours.


and that summer, i learned to play the game. i came to understand the only way to win is to make a total commitment to acquisition. i came to understand that money and possessions, that’s the way that you keep score. and by the end of that summer, i was more ruthless than my grandmother. i was ready to bend the rules, if i had to, to win that game. and i sat down with her to play that fall.


slowly, cunningly, i exposed my grandmother’s vulnerability. relentlessly, inexorably, i drove her off the board. the game does strange things to you… i looked at my grandmother... she was an old lady by now. she was a widow… she loved me. i took everything she had. i destroyed her financially and psychologically. i watched her give her last dollar and quit in utter defeat. it was the greatest moment of my life.


and then she had one more thing to teach me. then she said, “now it all goes back in the box–all those houses and hotels, all the railroads and utility companies, all that property and all that wonderful money–now it all goes back in the box.” i didn’t want it to go back in the box. i wanted to leave the board out, bronze it maybe, as a memorial to my ability to play the game.


“no,” she said, “none of it was really yours. you got all heated up about it for a while, but it was around a long time before you sat down at the board, and it will be here after you’re gone. players come and players go. but it all goes back in the box.”


and the game always ends. for every player, the game ends. every day you pick up a newspaper, and you can turn to a page that describes people for whom this week the game ended. skilled businessmen, an aging grandmother who was in a convalescent home with a brain tumor, teenage kids who think they have the whole world in front of them, and somebody drives through a stop sign. it all goes back in the box–houses and cars, titles and clothes, filled barns, bulging portfolios, even your body.

since this story shook me up in a good way, and refreshed my perspective, i thought i might pay it forward by sharing both what was shared in the sermon and what God shared with me in my own inner thoughts.

i bolded/underlined a few things above, since those phrases pierced me most as i sat among the congregation.

 “accumulate everything she could” / “a total commitment to acquisition”
where i currently live in the united states, “accumulate everything you can” is undeniably the mantra of the populous.  whether we articulate that to ourselves or not, it is subliminally there, fed to us amongst our friends, in our work place, through advertisements, and in our own misled expectations and sense of entitlement.  i am no less guilty then the rest.

whether that is more money, more accomplishments, more possessions, more time, more friends, more happiness – more is always better, always best, and always sought after.  and where does “more” ever end?

as i listened to the story, what both frightened and saddened me was the basic reality that the belief in "more is better" is infrequently questioned.  it is normal. 

it becomes a fever, this “total commitment to acquisition.” it propels us to blinding zealotry, to a dogma of “every man for himself” and we find ourselves descended into a pit of everyone against everyone else in a fierce battle of the comparison game. it’s madness.  someone will always be better, faster, stronger.  someone will always have a cooler technological device, a bigger house, more money.  someone will always be more accomplished than you, will have more accolades, a more impressive job title.  yet, we remain absolutely committed to acquisition, even when getting more is never enough.  there is no end to what can be got, so no "getting" can ever leave us feeling quite settled.

and even if you were able to have everything you ever wanted, be the best, have the most – what then?

“the game does strange things to you”
this is not to say that we are all rotten people.  i don’t think that at all, but as the story says, the acquisition “game does strange things” to us all.  we’ve all felt it, or at least i most certainly have – the green sheen of envy descends and tunnel vision envelopes us.  all we can see is all that we do not have, all the things we are not.  nothing else matters, and those individuals who have the things we want or who are the person we wish we were become a sudden threat.  we find ourselves almost loathing them, and, for no reason, really, we almost hope for their downfall.

but why? God does not have a limited supply of blessings to dispense on his children.  there is no limit to His love.  and, even secularly speaking, there is no shortage of opportunities to achieve, succeed, to have our moment in the sun.  but, the game does strange things to you, and we occasionally fall into the fog of wanting only ourselves to be blessed – ourselves, and no one else.

it is in this game that we become the ugly versions of ourselves.  the false versions, in which we momentarily lose sight of the fact that we are children of God, made to be the reflection of the Creator. 

“now it all goes back in the box” / “none of it was really yours”
it is a simple concept, but i personally often forget it – at the end, we don’t keep any of the things we gain in this life.  all the money we save, all the things we buy, all the possessions we cherish, all the goals we reach, and all the accomplishments we attach to our sense of self – it all goes back in the box.  we can’t take it with us, and so it was truly never ours completely, since none of us can keep anything forever.

now, i don’t think that is to say that going after our passions and desires is misguided or a waste of time.  i think God wires us to want things for a reason, gives us certain skills that propel us to seek after certain types of goals.  it adds flourish to life, detail to the blank slate that is us when we start out in this mortal life.  but, if we could just remember, if we could just remind ourselves once in a while that “none of it is really ours” every once in a while, maybe we would find ourselves more able to enjoy the journey, the failures along with the victories, and not be so fixated on the end game. 

because there is no end game.  “more” is an eternal state, never graspable, always evasive, and none of the “more” can be kept forever in any case.

“for every player, the game ends”
a morbid thought, perhaps, but the basic truth is: life here is temporary, and for each of us the accumulation game will end.  each of us will pass from this earth, leaving all we gained to be “put back in the box.”  now, we can’t take our possessions or achievements with us, we can’t even take our relationships and memories with us, but we can leave behind a great deal.  the power resides in our own choices up as to what kind of legacy we leave behind with family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, even strangers and passerbys. 

to say that standing apart from the “total commitment to acquisition” is difficult is a gross under-exaggeration of the challenge it proves to be.  we are faced with the temptation to do as everyone else is doing almost every moment of everyday. and making choices to be different than the norm is not only uncomfortable, quite often proves to be an obstacle, an equivalent to a salmon swimming up stream. but if we keep this little morbid thought in mind, “for every player, the game ends” perhaps it can provide us fresh perspective, a gazing-upward and eternal perspective, which would free us to be givers rather than accumulators.

i mean, even if we succeeded in doing this one time in our entire life, and forsake the acquisition – it would please God and we might just find that we have more joy as a result.  after all, let’s admit it, occasionally there is a small thrill found in challenging the box others expect you to stay inside.  so if we each did this just once, maybe we could learn to leave more things in the box before the game ends and find ourselves better able to serve God and each other.

maybe.